Kogi

9/15/11I was driving back to work from napping at my apartment during my lunch time today, and saw the Kogi “Verde” truck on Olympic, between Sawtelle and Barrington. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the truck at that particular location, but for some reason it was the first time I was actually intrigued. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had Kogi since they camped out near my apartment while I was at UCLA. Or maybe because it was a good chance to complete my Roy Choi holy trinity (after visiting A-Frame and Chego). But regardless, I decided to stop the car and get some Kogi, despite my widely-known apathy for the food from my previous experiences. Parking a block away, I can smell the abundance of sesame oil (which makes its presence known on everything from the truck).

Kogi SlidersKogi Sliders ($5) – short rib, sesame mayo, cheese, salsa roja and a cabbage-romaine slaw tossed in a chili soy vinaigrette on toasted buns

This was under the “Kogi Favorites” section. I only remember trying the taco, burrito and kimchi quesadilla in the past, so I figured to try something different. I thought that the sliders were pretty good. The short rib and veggie combo made this kind of reminiscent to mini tortas, with the buns soaking up the flavors quite well.

TacosTacos: Short Rib, Spicy Pork ($2.10 each) – sesame-chili salsa roja, julienne romaine lettuce and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette, cilantro-green onion-lime relish, crushed sesame seeds, sea salt

The tacos basically have the same ingredients as the sliders, or at the very least tasted as if they do. I think that’s probably my main concern with the food at Kogi (besides everything being on the saltier side and too much going on – like Chego), that it looks like the majority of the stuff have the same components, so there wasn’t much variety from dish to dish. These were not bad though, but the sliders were better.

Blackjack QuesadillaBlackjack Quesadilla ($7) – caramelized onions and spicy pork married together with cheddar and jack cheese, citrusy-jalapeño salsa verde

I also wanted to try something from the “Fan Favorites” section, as I’ve never tried any of the items from it. I decided to go with the blackjack quesadilla, since I heard the person ahead of me order it. This was probably my favorite of the three things I ordered, as the tortilla was grilled to a crisp, which reminded me of an onion pancake (although the photo on the menu looks MUCH better than above). I felt that the salsa verde was a little unnecessary though, since there was already a lot going on with the caramelized onions and spicy pork.

I wasn’t disappointed with this most recent experience with Kogi, but I did come in with fairly low expectations. And luckily the line for the truck wasn’t long at long, or else it probably wouldn’t have been worth it. I felt like the food repeated some of the same flaws I remembered from the past, but the time away has made me somewhat appreciate the fusion-y flavors, however one-note they are.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Kogi BBQ

Kogi Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

Chego

9/8/11Chego is widely regarded as Roy Choi’s brick-and-mortar version of Kogi. The food that’s served at the restaurant, however, is probably somewhere in between Kogi and Chef Choi’s other restaurant, A-Frame. Back in the day, when I lived in the Palms area (less than a month ago), Chego was within walking distance from my apartment. Still, I wasn’t really amazed after a couple of attempts. Like I said in my A-Frame post, I considered Chego to be a decent place, but ultimately it was more hype than anything else. Everything there just seemed so…salty (and I like heavy seasonings). Well, why come back then (especially after moving out of the area)?

I was on my way back to the new apartment last Thursday when I was thinking of a place to grab a quick dinner. I originally wanted to eat in the Pasadena area, since that was where I was coming back from, but couldn’t think of a worthy place near where I was at (Eugenia suggested Dog Haus, but that was actually 4-5 miles north of where I was, and I didn’t want to drive further away). While getting off the 10W (since 405N seems to get congested even around 8pm nowadays due to construction), I passed by Chego. Since it didn’t look too busy (it’s usually packed), I thought to myself “why not?”

PhotoChubby Pork Belly – kochujang-lacquered kurobuta, w/fried egg, pickled watermelon radishes, water spinach, cilantro, cotija, peanuts

I believe I ordered this on one of my former visits (probably did, since it has pork belly). It kind of reaffirmed my apathy for Chego’s food, but I have to say that this was better than how I remembered it. This time, I didn’t just taste salt and spice. Those flavors were very bold once again, but I thought there was a better balance this time around. However, it looks like there’s still too much going on in the bowl. Maybe it can be simplified a bit? Also, for pork “belly,” the meat wasn’t fatty at all. More of a pork chop cut. The fried egg and pickled radishes were a nice touch (but necessary?), though I tasted no peanuts.

PhotoOoey Gooey Fries – fries, sour cream sambal, melting monterey jack and cheddar cheese, cotija, chillies, cilantro, pickled garlic

Another item I wasn’t too crazy about in the past. Again, a better version than I had remembered. However, too much sambal oelek and sour cream in my opinion. But the flavors were very good. I particularly liked the pickled garlic, and the fries weren’t soggy at all.

It’s still a common theme for the dishes at Chego to be in-your-face with salt and spice, and each dish still has a million bold ingredients. However, I found the food on this visit to be a little more focused and better balanced. I still feel like the food here is probably a hit-or-miss, but on this visit it was more of a hit. In the end, I consider Chego a flawed restaurant that has very interesting combinations of food (however of a mess those combinations are – consider it like a Pollock painting) that is quite enjoyable from time to time.

Chris Hei grade: B

Chego
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 287-0337

Chego on Urbanspoon

Take A Bao

8/22/11My manager took a couple of coworkers and myself out to lunch last Monday. We decided to go to the Westfield Century City food court, and chose to eat at Take A Bao collectively. I would never be the one to choose Americanized Asian cuisine, but my manager wanted it. And since he was paying, I didn’t want to make it hard on him by wandering off elsewhere.

Photo

PhotoBao ($10) – any two bao served with fresh napa salad

Thai Peanut Chicken

Thai Peanut Chicken – grilled chicken, peanut sauce, pickled carrots, cilantro, scallions, crushed peanuts

I don’t think Take A Bao actually cooks any of the stuff in-house, since I saw no kitchen (and they’re located in the middle of the food court). This “bao” (with the buns some Chinese restaurants serve Peking duck with, not the baos like BBQ pork bao) was very dry and dense. It didn’t have that airiness and softness that these buns are supposed to have. This felt more like a mantou that was previously frozen (probably was). Oh, and the thai peanut chicken was okay.

Signature BBQ PorkSignature BBQ Pork – hoisin braised bbq pork, pickled red onion, pea shoots, marinated cucumbers

The hoisin was too overpowering in this one. It felt like the pulled pork was smothered with the sauce, then microwaved. I’m never one to refuse more hoisin sauce (being Chinese), but the excess amount and the lack of other flavors makes this also just an okay choice. The two baos were served with a napa cabbage salad, which looks and (probably) tastes like their Chinese chicken salad, sans chicken.

Despite my reservations and apathy about the food at Take A Bao, I do admit that it’s pretty decent for food court fare. Of course, nothing can compare to Santouka, but remember that food courts were filled with the likes of Sbarro back in the day. This is at least a small step above that. But given the choice, I wouldn’t go to a food court for lunch.

Chris Hei grade: C

Take A Bao
Westfield Century City
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 551-1100

A-Frame

Photo credit: hektattoo.blogspot.com

Came with Ben after basketball a couple of Wednesdays ago. Despite living close to the restaurant (or soon-to-be used to be close), I never had the urge to A-Frame, because while I think that Chef Roy Choi’s other two efforts (Kogi, Chego) were decent, they were ultimately just mostly hype. Also, the menu didn’t get me excited. But in another attempt to try something new after playing basketball, A-Frame came to mind. And I had heard good things about the restaurant from coworkers. So it was finally time to give it a shot…

We got to the restaurant at around 9:30pm, and the place was packed. The place is pretty small, just a few wooden picnic-esque tables inside, a bar with a few stools, and a patio. Luckily, we were seated within a few minutes. Note that these tables are somewhat communal, so if you have a party of less than four, be prepared to sit with some strangers. I swear that Chef Choi was chillin’ with a bottle of grapefruit soda near the entrance of the restaurant. Not being sure about it, however, I just gave him the patented Chris Hei wave-nod. It was reciprocated.

Furikake Kettle CornFurikake Kettle Corn ($6) – buttered Blazin’ J’s Hawaiian style

Very interesting. Has a nice combination of sweet and savory flavors. I wish movie theater popcorn was like this.

Kitchen FriesKitchen Fries ($6) – purple Okinawan sweet potato, yam, and Korean sweet potato with kimchi sour cream and sea salt

I couldn’t really differentiate the different between the different types (pretty damn dark – impossible to take good photos with an iPhone 3GS), but these fat sweet potato fries were awesome. That kimchi sour cream was delicious.

Baby Back RibsBaby Back Ribs ($11) – air-dried and hoisin-chili glazed

I’m usually not a fan of this “air-dried” preparation of ribs because I think that it dries up the juicy meat, but the flavor was good. Sweet hoisin hits the tongue, then the slight kick of spice creeps up.

Cracklin Beer Can Chicken (half)Cracklin Beer Can Chicken ($11 – half) – with kimchi, century egg, salsa roja and verde

Has to be among the best preparation of chicken I’ve had in years. The skin had a nice rotisserie crisp, and the meat was just downright juicy. The chicken was best by itself, but having it with the different salsa gave it a different identity – like a really good version of El Pollo Loco. The egg, while also good, was more like a tea smoked egg than century egg.

Chu-Don't-Know-MangChu-Don’t-Know-Mang ($7) – pound cake cinnamon churros, with malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream

I was a little embarrassed when ordering this due to its name. The churros were good, but not great. The texture wasn’t very churros-esque – more like fried cake. The vanilla and malted chocolate milk was a nice complement.

I’m glad that Chef Choi’s passion project didn’t disappoint. In terms of individual dishes, the chicken is probably in my top ten for the year. The meal as a whole wasn’t perfect, but there were no bad dishes. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, and I’ll definitely order the chicken and kitchen fries again. A-Frame is a great place to take a small group to share various Asian-influenced takes on modern American comfort food.

Chris Hei grade: B+

A-Frame
12565 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-7700